October 21, 2010
by Patrick Lafferty
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
My seven-year-old is learning a bit about Newton’s laws of motion this week with the help of vinegar, a spoonful of baking soda, and a plastic rocket he cajoled us into buying for him on a recent trip. Liberate carbon-dioxide through the interaction of the vinegar-baking soda solution inside the rocket’s chamber and to his delight he’s discovering how objects tend to stay at rest unless an external force acts upon them. Allow the effervescent froth to escape through the rocket’s small engine nozzle and our first-born is taking note of how every action has an equal and opposite reaction. He never knew something so fun could at the same time reveal something so inviolable as Newton’s laws of motion.
Jerry Coyne is a professor of ecology at the University of Chicago and in recent days has written of how science is on an unalterable track to eradicate any residual credibility religious faith may still retain. With each passing year, he argues, the advance of scientific discoveries continues to whittle away at tenet after tenet of religious doctrine until, as he sees it, those who hold religious belief are either aloof or just plain guilty of holding two contradictory notions simultaneously. (Some of you may remember our consideration of one primatologist’s discovery that humanity’s uniqueness lies in its ability to hold two competing ideas.)
Space doesn’t permit an analysis of Coyne’s argument and wiser minds have already taken up that responsibility with both clarity and integrity. But with all due respect to Professor Coyne, there is at least one dimension (among others) of religious faith that resonates with the scientific sensibility. Just as there are inviolable laws of physics, as my firstborn is learning this week, so there is an inviolable law of theological dynamics, so to speak, uttered in I Peter 5:6. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”—a rendering of Proverbs 3:34. For every assertion of pride there will be, eventually, if not immediately, a corresponding experience of humbling. And for every instance of humility there will be an opposite experience of gracious exaltation.
Last Sunday, our consideration of the humility of Jesus culminated with as look at the supreme demonstration of this inviolable theological law. God the Father crowned the Son with peerless majesty and honor in response to the Son’s unqualified display of humility. With that divine reaction to pure submission the integrity of this theological constant remained intact. And it’s the inviolability of that law, Paul argues, that has deep implications for us. We may either acknowledge its truth and submit to its effects, or try to subvert its dictates and find ourselves as frustrated as the man who tries to fly with only his arms.
Pride comes in as many forms as there are elements on the periodic table. The most common form is in the assertion of our own importance to the neglect of others—it’s as pervasive as hydrogen and its effects are as predictable as the sunrise. Scorn your spouse or your children for long enough and you can expect a corresponding diminution of the intimacy you have with them. Make your career or your children the primary means by which you find your stability and in time you can expect disappointment and dissatisfaction. Elevate personal advancement as your highest goal and you’ll find yourself either surrounded by sycophants or abandoned by anyone of substance. It being baseball season, the heralded Ty Cobb’s comment about what he would do if he could do life over is fitting—and telling:
“I was aggressive, perhaps too aggressive. Maybe I went too far. I always had to be right in any argument I was in. I always had to be first in everything. I do indeed think I would have done some things different. And if I had I believe I would have had more friends.”
The pride of aggressiveness yielded an equal and opposite experience of isolation and regret.
Pride is the catalyst for many of our human maladies, but it is also at the core of our fundamental instability. What shall turn back its effects? A humbling of ourselves by a turning to the One who humbled Himself most dramatically. He is the only One sufficient to absorb the guilt of our sin and the force of God’s wrath. Like the probing insight of an electron microscope, He is also the only one capable of exposing the folly and futility of our pride.
Newton’s third law of motion is as applicable to the human heart as it is to a carbon-dioxide-powered plastic toy: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So where might you be trying to subvert God’s inviolable law of humbling the proud and exalting the humble?